Los Naranjos

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Los Naranjos is the name for an archaeological region in western Honduras. It lies on the north border of Lake Yojoa.[1] It is significant to the region because of its implications on determining where the Mayan frontier existed, as well as which ancient peoples were in contact and what relations between "tribes" may have been like. Los Naranjos is located at 14° 54' 0" N/ 88° 3' 0" W.[2] Whether or not the Maya influenced the people of the Lake Yojoa region is disputed.

Archaeological excavations[edit]

In 1935, Frans Blom and Jens Yde conducted an excavation of a large mound at Los Naranjos. They found a large collection of polychrome pottery. They believed the large mound, which was one of many, was a burial mound because the bowls and pots they found were deliberately buried there. J.B. Edwards, a former Harvard botanist, helped Blom and Yde in there exploration of the site. He had excavated there in the past and had a large collection of antiquities. Yde purchased many of the specimens for the Danish National Museum. One particular vessel that Yde purchased became a topic of interest and was coined "the Yde Vessel." [3]

From 1967 to 1969, archaeologists Claude F. Baudez and Pierre Becquelin periodically excavated the region. The two published the work Archeologie de Los Naranjos as a field guide for their findings. The work was written in French and an English translation is not readily available. The book includes both pictures of artifacts and tables that explain time periods and locations of uncovered antiquities . They found sherds of ceramic vessels that came from four different time periods, suggesting prolonged use of the site. They used four phases from which the artifacts they discovered came, Jaral (800-400 B.C.), Eden which is divided into Eden I (400-100 B.C.)and Eden II (100 B.C.-A.D. 550), Yojoa (A.D. 550-950) and Rio Blanco (A.D. 950-1250). Various antiquities found at the site include jade figurines, clay pottery and a jadeite hand axe, many of which suggest relation to Olmec origin. Clay pottery included findings of polychrome, monochrome and Ulua bichrome coloration. Each varying coloration seems to have existed in different time periods. The stratigraphy, or way that strata separates time periods, suggests that the region had been occupied for a long period of time. The oldest layers of strata contained monochrome pottery with little or no design. Sherds of pottery in the nearby La Sierra site seem to have direct ties with the pottery of Los Naranjos in the Late Classic period. Newer layers of strata showed polychrome pottery that was more advanced. Most of the pottery found in the region was made locally, although some may have been traded for.[4] Radiocarbon dating of 7 sherds from the excavation site provided the basis for the time periods. The white slipped polychrome pottery of the Terminal Classic period at Los Naranjos is "Las Vegas" polychrome, similar to types of "Las Vegas" polychrome at Comayagua. It is in close stylistic relation to sherds from Rivas Papagayo but earlier in date.[5]

The Yde Vessel[edit]

A clay vessel that is of particular interest was discovered at Los Naranjos. The vessel, in comparison with other pottery found at the site, is large and extraordinarily decorated. The remaining fragment is 24.4 cm high and the rim appeared to have a diameter of about 23 cm. The decoration of the pottery is in black and red with the base of the vessel being orange. The designs depict "dancing figures" which is a common theme of art from the time period. The figures are seen in a cave. Archaeologist and historians attribute the setting of the cave as part of a common motif, incorporating ideas of the first humans and genesis of humankind. Nielsen and Brady believe that a deity, represented by a crocodilian figure outside the cave, is a symbol of fertility and was believed to preside over the genesis of mankind. In The Couple in the Cave Jesper Nielsen and James E. Brady propose that the people of Los Naranjos may have believed that Lake Yojoa and the Cave of Taulabé were the birthplace of humans. They go on to say that in MesoAmerican cultures, having territory near the birthplace of mankind was invaluable.[6]


Interestingly, the site contained two large ditches, one that stretched from Lake Yojoa to a pool just north of an encampment, made during the Jaral phase. The second ditch was probably constructed during the Eden phase. The purpose of the ditches is disputed, however there is evidence to support the idea that they were probably used as a defense mechanism. Another possibility was that they were filled with water, however the bedrock at the bottom of the ditches is seemingly too porous for a water well.

People of Los Naranjos[edit]

The Lake Yojoa region of Honduras lies about 80 kilometres (50 mi) from what was defined as a probable boundary of the Maya territories.[7] It is presumed that the people of Los Naranjos spoke Lenca, a language that is indigenous to Honduras and El Salvador. The Lenca language is nearly extinct in modern times and there is a movement to preserve and restore the language, as there are still people of Lenca origin.[8]

Baudez and Becquelin found evidence for a hierarchical society at Los Naranjos. Among the buried, there was a varying array of antiquities, some more advanced than others. People having been buried differently suggested to Baudez and Becquelin that a hierarchy may have been in place.[9]

Affiliations with other Mesoamerican cultures[edit]

It appears that the people of Los Naranjos had temporal variations in cultural relations with other Mesoamerican societies. Antiquities from the Jaral phase suggest relation with the Olmec. Jade workings and Olmec influenced sherds were present during the time period and trade may have been possible. During the phase Eden II, the pottery of the region had little or no similarities with Tzakol pottery. The region may have been on the periphery of Maya and other Mesoamerican peoples during the Eden phase. Strata from the Late Classic Period, however, revealed that half of the pottery that the people used was of Maya relation. The Maya-related pottery was Polychrome.[1]


  1. ^ a b Marcus 1976: 583
  2. ^ http://www.travelmath.com/city/Los+Naranjos,+Honduras
  3. ^ Neilsen & Brady 2006:[page needed]
  4. ^ Henderson et al. 1979:[page needed]
  5. ^ Healy 1980: 323–324
  6. ^ Nielsen & Brady 2006
  7. ^ Thompson 1975: 321
  8. ^ Campbell 1976, passim.
  9. ^ Marcus 1976: 583; Thompson 1975: 321


Baudez, Claude F.; and Pierre Becquelin (1973). Archéologie de Los Naranjos, Honduras. Etudes mésoaméricaines, no. 2 (French 1st ed.). Mexico D.F.: Mission archéologique et ethnologique française au Mexique. OCLC 5680095.  (French)
Campbell, Lyle (January 1976). "The Last Lenca" (JSTOR online reproduction). International Journal of American Linguistics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press in association with the Conference on American Indian Languages) 42 (1): 73–78. doi:10.1086/465390. ISSN 0020-7071. OCLC 1753556. 
Healy, Paul F. (1980). Archaeology of the Rivas Region, Nicaragua. Waterloo, Ontario Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. ISBN 0-88920-094-7. OCLC 7813615. 
Henderson, John S.; Ilene Sterns, Anthony Wonderley, and Patricia A. Urban (Summer 1979). "Archaeological Investigations in the Valle de Naco, Northwestern Honduras: A Preliminary Report". Journal of Field Archaeology (JSTOR online reproduction) (Boston, MA: Association for Field Archaeology, Boston University) 6 (2): 169–192. doi:10.2307/529362. ISSN 0093-4690. JSTOR 529362. OCLC 8560818. 
Marcus, Joyce (October 1976). "Review: [untitled; of Archeologie de Los Naranjos, Honduras by Claude F. Baudez and Pierre Becquelin]" (JSTOR online reproduction). American Antiquity (review of ed.) (Menasha, WI: Society for American Archaeology) 41 (4): 583. doi:10.2307/279035. ISSN 0002-7316. OCLC 1479302. 
Nielsen, Jesper; and James E. Brady (2006). "The Couple in the Cave: Origin Iconography on a Ceramic Vessel from Los Naranjos, Honduras". Ancient Mesoamerica (London and New York: Cambridge University Press) 17 (2): 203–217. doi:10.1017/S0956536106060123. ISSN 0956-5361. OCLC 21544811. 
Strong, William Duncan; Alfred V. Kidder, and Anthony J. Drexel Paul, Jr. (1938). Preliminary report on the Smithsonian Institution-Harvard University Archeological Expedition to Northwestern Honduras, 1936 (with 16 plates) (online facsimile at Internet Archive). Smithsonian miscellaneous collections, vol. 97, no. 1; Publication 3445. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution. OCLC 1050019. 
Thompson, J. Eric S. (June 1975). "Review: [untitled; of Archeologie de Los Naranjos, Honduras by Claude F. Baudez and Pierre Becquelin]" (JSTOR online reproduction). Man, New series (London: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland) 10 (2): 321. ISSN 0025-1496. OCLC 42646610.